Challenges finding daycare are at the top of concerns among Tri-City parents, prompting the United Way to conduct a survey to determine the needs of working parents.
Parents with children attending Leigh elementary school will get first crack at the survey as part of a sample to ensure the survey is asking the right questions. After tweaks, it will open online to all Tri-City parents on March 2, according to Navreen Gill, coordinator of United Way's Avenues of Change program.
"There is a momentum in the community to try to do things differently," Gill said. "Our kids deserve it and our families deserve it, they are working so hard."
The survey has been in the works since last fall, when a stakeholder group of municipal, health, social services, literacy, school district and other agencies started tackling the problem that surfaced when parents in the Kwayhquitlum middle school/Coquitlam River elementary school neighbourhoods were asked what their top concerns were.
Gill said the survey will "capture the parent experience" and is being done across the Tri-Cities to get better context about daycare needs in the area. All parents with children from birth to age eight are being asked to participate.
There are approximately 20 questions that ask parents their specific working and child care needs. The online questionnaire should take about 15 minute to complete and it's being translated into Chinese and Farsi to make sure no one is excluded.
Gill said quality of child care is as important as the quantity because children of working parents spend so much time there. For many parents, just getting a space is the issue now because there don't seem to be enough before- and after-school spaces to meet the need.
"It's a huge concern," said Gill, noting that parents with children with special needs or who work shifts face additional challenges. "We've heard the difficulties of parents who are on wait lists."
WAIT LISTS GROW
Meanwhile, Tri-City parents are scrambling for school and daya care spots for this September.
The problem is particularly acute on Burke Mountain, home to a growing number of families in newer developments, where one school is turning away kindergarten students just a few days after registration began this week because classes are full while a new school that could accommodate them is not yet built.
The daycare situation is little better, with wait lists for children needing before- and after-school.
"Right now, I don't know where my kids are going to be going to school. I don't know where my kids will be needing after-school care," said Shannon Ingram who has twin daughters she is trying to register for kindergarten.
After showing up at 10 a.m. Tuesday to register at Leigh elementary, Ingram found out that parents had lined up from before 6 a.m., snapping up all available spots.
According to principal Remi Collins, the school could only accommodate 96 kindergarten students, and 50 spots were taken up by families with siblings already in the school. With an enrolment of 500 students, six portables on site and the likelihood that enrolment could grow to 530 in September, the school is doing what it can, Collins said.
That includes helping the United Way Avenues of Change initiative to survey daycare needs of parents (see related story) and canvassing parents for what after-school programs they would like to see at Leigh.
As well, he said the waiting list usually whittles down by September and he expects the problem of school enrolment should be reduced in the area when Smiling Creek elementary school opens in September 2018. "Hopefully, a reasonable proportion would be at Smiling Creek the year it opens."
But that's little comfort to Ingram and other parents facing a school and daycare crunch.
Although she can try her luck at three other elementary schools — Birchland, Coquitlam River and Irvine — Ingram will still be challenged with finding a daycare provider that can ferry her two kids to and from school when there are so few daycare options in the area.
BOTH PARENTS WORK
"I'm ready to go anywhere that will take my kids," she said. "I'm not trying to get one in, I'm trying to get two."
And Ingram's story is not unique.
At 68%, the Tri-Cities has the highest labour force participation rate in Metro Vancouver, and the number of daycare spaces has stayed virtually stagnant since 2014, according to the Tri-Cities Child Care Resource and Referral — just a 1.5% increase in capacity, or 97, spaces for a total of 6,604 in the entire region.
For Linda Panduri, who has a daughter also starting kindergarten and can't find before- and after-school care, the stress is unbearable. She didn't even bother trying to get in to the daycare at Leigh because of a long waiting list. And while she's hopeful she may still find a place at Westwood Montessori, even though parents were recently told that there is no more room, she is frustrated with the lack of services in the area.
"It's been a frustrating issue and nothing seems to get a resolution," she said.
It will likely be up to private operators to determine if there is a need for daycare and find space to offer services near the schools.
The school district is not responsible for providing daycare and will only offer to rent space to a daycare provider if it's not needed for education purposes.
That means parents can't count on a daycare at Smiling Creek elementary when it opens in 2018.
"We just won't know, we don't make decisions on renting facilities until the school is open and in," said Peter Chevrier, SD43's communications manager.
• For updates on the day care survey and when it becomes available, visit uwaoc.tricitiesecd.ca and on Facebook at UWAOCCoqRiver.